Saturday, April 2, 2011

FICTION: Forever Tracker by Terry Groves

What had he done this time?

A light sweat chilled Jarrod’s brow but he didn't know why. Sure, he had broken into Rinlan's main office and tapped into his personal computer; stored a terabyte of that information to his memory implant but nothing that should have his senses tingling like this. Jarrod closed his eyes tight to keep back the stinging tears of frustration.

Of course, he had dispatched a couple of Rinlan's guards, two using his trusty HDT2000 plasma pistol and three with his ever reliable electron blade. That was nothing to worry about. What had he missed? There was no way of tracing the incident to him. He had been very careful.

He had worn his issue leathers, neck to feet, which left no trace of his identity. Sub-atomic coolers in his boots obliterated any energy trail which could be discovered by heat sensing devices. Scramblers erased any disturbance caused by his low level body radiation. But, one of the guards had caught him a lucky punch and split his lip. He had cleaned the blood smear from the wall and was sure he left no traceable element behind. Again, his equipment had worked fine, it was him that was inadequate for the job.

The worst he could think was that he may have missed a bit of blood, cripes it was only a small cut. There was no way to trace him with that anyway...except genetic scanners. They require only a tiny tissue sample for comparison but those things were few and far between.

Jarrod pulled tentatively on the door handle, expecting to find it locked. It opened easily and he stepped over the threshold. A cool darkness and dusty interior wrapped itself around him. As the door hissed closed he caught the faint giggles of two children planning some mischief. Something about the sounds raised hairs on Jarrod's neck. Instinctively he checked his hip holster and glanced over his suit's monitors; everything was operating normally.

Jarrod had been looking for a shortcut through the unfinished mall, which was why he found himself in a cavernous and hollow area strewn with metal and concrete debris. Electrical cables snaked in lazy coils from the lattice work of the suspended ceiling. As Jarrod walked, his footsteps echoed and re-echoed until it sounded like an army was moving around him.

Except...giggles? Giggles...Jarrod felt the walls close in as realization hit him. Genetic Hunters!

Jarrod recalled his cadet school class on elaborate offensive devices. Hunters, Gigglers, could track an individual unerringly. Homing in on a genetic pattern the Hunters could not be fooled, stopped or out run. Able to adjust their vibration frequency they could pass through any material. Two inches in diameter and covered with spikes, they resembled maces of medieval times. Hunters were powered by a tiny uranium cell that guaranteed it could outlive any target by at least three thousand years.

It was the giggling kids that triggered Jarrod's recall of this particular item. Reportedly, the motor emitted a sound not unlike juvenile giggles which earned it the name it was most often referred by; The Giggler. Highly illegal, their existence was almost legend. There was no one who could make the claim of successfully evading one.

Jarrod quickened his pace, the echoes keeping time. He had never actually seen a Genetic Hunter and from what he had heard, for the cost of a single Giggler one could buy and equip an army.

Giggles behind him, Jarrod glanced back to see if the kids had followed him in. Nothing. He stopped and listened. Still nothing. The light was not good, offering plenty of shadows where a mischievous child could hide. Jarrod was not prepared to offer himself the flattery of believing someone thought him worth spending the price tag of a Giggler on. As well though, he did not try to convince himself that there were children following him, planning some juvenile joke. He was not one to operate with a closed mind. Even the chance of appearing paranoid would not eliminate the possibility of a Hunter on his tail. Maintaining an open awareness had saved him more than once.

His leather creaked with exertion. His pistol bumped light on his hip. His pace became almost a run. Jarrod headed for the exit he expected around the next bend. Light fell in patches through intermittent skylights, not yet enhanced by man-made illumination.

Jarrod's step was confident and sure. His balance felt perfect and his reflexes were at an adrenaline sharpened peak. He could feel his heart beat increase but his thoughts remained clear, panic unable to set in. He came around the corner at a full run. He felt too good and was sure he was making a fatal mistake of some sort.

Giggles behind him.

More than one?

Yes, distinctly two voices.

Jarrod relaxed a little, must be kids. Who in their right mind would send two Hunters, at sufficient cost to buy a planet, after a young and overzealous Police Patrol Cadet? What did Rinlan think he had? Jeez, the kids were fast. They sounded closer.

Jarrod sprinted for the door twenty five yards distant. Even his suit's air conditioning couldn't keep the sweat from running down his back. It dissipated heat, not fear. He prayed the door was not blocked from the other side.

He didn't slow his pace as he hit the panic bar on the door. The giggles seemed right behind him. It crashed open. Jarrod lost his balance. He was not expecting a two foot drop from the door to the ground and he crunched heavily into the dirt. Another error! The door crashed back against the wall then slammed closed, barely missing Jarrod's head as it swung over him. The chuckles were cut off with a bang.

Instinct and reflex gathered Jarrod's feet under him. Gasping for air, eyes watering from the effort, Jarrod ran over the rough ground of the unfinished parking lot. He could feel real panic rising. It burned his heart. He almost collided with a worker who appeared suddenly from the yawning mouth of a loading bay door. The labourer's partner yelled as Jarrod passed but he couldn't make out the words. He dashed to the corner of the building, pulled his pistol and turned in a crouch. Two dark objects streaked toward him from the direction of the door he had fallen out of. He raised his pistol but knew it was an act of desperation. Hunters were indestructible.

The workmen moved between Jarrod and the Gigglers and the Gigglers hit them. Jarrod watched the men drop to the ground. He knew the race was not over though. The Hunters would determine they had not found their proper target and would not detonate. He had erred again but this time it was a very expensive mistake. Two twitching bodies attested to this fact.

Unfortunately for the innocent workmen, the Hunters would burrow through their soft flesh to continue the pursuit. Jarrod realized the men had unknowingly bought him a little more time. He did not know how long it would take the Gigglers to make their way through the bodies, but he set out to make best use of whatever extra time he had been afforded. He turned, holstered his pistol and darted around the corner.

Although the mall was not finished, the mega-stores at each end were open for business. He could see the parking lot ahead, crowded with vehicles. If he could find one open he might have enough time to hot wire it and get away. He knew he would still not be safe but he could out-distance the Gigglers, gain himself some time. As he sprinted for the vehicles he heard the Gigglers again.

He realized he would not reach the cars before the Hunters caught him. He turned toward a side door into the store. It was locked. Without hesitation, he pulled his pistol and fired. An alarm sounded as the door swung open. Wasting no time Jarrod pulled the door closed behind him and dashed down the nearest aisle.

He could hear the Gigglers change pitch as they altered vibration to pass through the door. Again this was a slow procedure which allowed Jarrod to gain a little more distance on his pursuers. He darted from aisle to aisle, staying close to the walls in an effort to confuse the sensors on the Hunters. If he could force them to pass through a few walls or aisle dividers he could gain enough of a lead to make a good getaway.

Avoiding the shoppers in the store was difficult. They were looking around, trying to see if the screaming alarm was real. None made any effort to get out of his way. He heard the change in pitch and knew the Hunters were in the store. He would know in a moment if his feeble attempts at slowing them down had worked.

Instead of the anticipated changes in pitch signaling that the Gigglers were working their way through the walls, the cries of people fell on Jarrod's ears. He realized with horror that the Hunters were attacking the people in the store. For all his good intentions and efforts, he had again made a serious mistake. Here he was causing the death of how many? The cries increased in volume and the furtive glances of shoppers turned to looks of near hysteria. Many looked toward the screams, vainly seeking the flames, others began to move toward the front of the store. Jeez, if too many people headed that way how many more would the Hunters strike? Jarrod didn't give himself time to dwell on the situation.

He scrambled to the top of a shelf unit and ran along the peak keeping his head low to avoid hanging signs. He had to do something to keep the Hunters from plowing through the people even if it slowed him down. Jarrod cursed his stupidity for not anticipating this situation. It was this type of oversight that had plagued his career. Rated an average cop, he had a reputation for not thinking his moves through, a bit of a hot-head. His Captain would have his badge for this one.

He concentrated on maintaining his footing as he stumbled through the various goods on the top shelf. Canned goods, boxes and plastic containers scattered at his approach. Several times he almost tripped but he managed to stay upright until he ran out of shelving.

To scramble down now would only lead the Hunters into the crowd again. Jarrod vaulted from the shelf over the aisle and onto the rows of shopping carts neatly fitted together awaiting eager shoppers to fill them. He raced across the slippery chrome and plastic bracing himself with his hand. From the carts he dove through the large front window, one more obstacle he had hoped to put between himself and the Hunters. Had he tried to use the doors, now jammed with shoppers panicked by the cries at the back of the store the Hunters would have caught him in the crush or else more people would have been killed. He somersaulted as he hit the glass and struck the ground on his shoulders. He came down hard on his back but continued the forward motion and was on his feet in one movement. He dashed for the cars and ducked behind the first one he came to. His body ached.

He had no idea where the Hunters were now. He couldn't hear them over the din of the exiting shoppers, the alarm bells and someone with panic in his voice urging the shoppers to remain calm. He had to take a moment to catch his breath. Why couldn't this seemingly simple surveillance assignment have remained the cushy job it first appeared to be? He couldn't stick to simply observing as his orders requested. No, not Jarrod. Again he had gone off, sticking his nose in where it could get bit; stirring the pot.

A double thunk of metal hitting metal interrupted his self-awareness and the, now too familiar change in pitch as the Gigglers began passing through an object alerted Jarrod to their proximity. He could tell they were making their way through the car that stood between him and the mall. He realized they were taking the shortest possible route to him and not necessarily the same path he took. Using this to his advantage he climbed over the next car.

By waiting until he heard the Hunters exit the first car and start on the second he knew how long it took them to make their way through a car. He scrambled over eight more and then set about getting the ninth car running. Because he couldn't stop his fingers from shaking, it took several minutes to get the car going. He gunned the engine and jammed it into gear. Heading out of the parking lot, he narrowly avoided getting boxed into a minor traffic jam by taking the off road route.

The car bumped and banged its way along but before long Jarrod was on the expressway heading toward the south spaceport where he had left his cruiser. Persistent as the Gigglers were there was no way they could catch him through space as he travelled just under the speed of light although they would continue to follow him. They couldn't even outrun this ancient car he was driving. He set the on-board remote with the coordinates of the spaceport then turned his mind to considering why Rinlan had sent two Gigglers after him. Jeez, two. That was hard to believe. He hadn't considered Rinlan a big enough fish to be able to afford this response. It had to be more than him violating Rinlan's inner office and it had to be more than the few men he had killed. That left only what he had taken. The only thing that he had was information. He didn't even know what the information was since he had only dumped raw data into his implanted memory. He had planned on sifting through it all later to see if there was anything that would help put Rinlan out of action.

Jarrod plugged into the cars' computer and began searching through the information to see if he could discover what was so important. Twenty minutes later the car signaled that it was approaching its destination and Jarrod unplugged himself from the computer. Most of what he had stolen was just the usual personal crap that everyone kept on-line; calendar, names and numbers, schedule. Rinlan must have thought his system secure for he had also maintained all of his clandestine operations on it. People he had had assassinated, some of them very important, shake-downs he was involved in, names of those he had on the take and most valuable, a huge drug operation close to fruition. There was a full description of his illegal empire. He must have been crazy to keep these records. Jarrod's big discovery was likely going to die with him though. His chance for the recognition he desired was going to kill him. He could sense the chase was not over yet.

The car found itself a parking space and Jarrod strode into the terminal building. He had a bit of a time getting through security. Plasma pistols were restricted weapons and, although he had all the necessary registration papers for it, on a backwards planet like this one it still caused quite a stir. Cooperation between Peace Patrol and local police was generally less than cordial. Why Rinlan chose this unadvanced location for his headquarters was obvious to Jarrod. Here he could easily be king of the hill.

He walked down the corridor leading to the port where he had parked his Star Jumper. A giggling behind him jolted him into a run, he drew his pistol for lack of anything better to do. He must have spent more time than he thought in security or else the Hunters had travelled faster than he had expected. He darted into a side corridor and stopped. He peeked around the corner and could see one of the Hunters proceeding up the corridor toward him. It appeared confused and Jarrod surmised that the shielding of the building was keeping his presence hidden for now. That would not last long.

He couldn't see the second hunter but was sure it was close. He needed enough time to get to his ship and get off planet before the hunters caught up to him.

Taking a small breath Jarrod jumped into the main corridor and hit the floor rolling, pistol held in front of him. Two quick pulls on the trigger sent a blaze of energy striking the Giggler. The Hunter was blasted back where it struck the wall. The second blast from the pistol drove it into the wall. Before he could move, the second Giggler smashed into the pistol. It had been seeking his trail close to the floor and was much closer than he imagined. Jarrod dropped the pistol as it began to disintegrate under the vibrations of the hunter. A half an inch more and the hunter would have found its target.

No sign of the hunter he had blasted. Jarrod held no hope that he had destroyed it, only prayed that it was slowed down. The one in the pistol was another story. It would be after him in no time. Jarrod pulled his blade and stuck it into the pistol just behind the power pack. It would take the Hunter a few minutes to vibrate its way through the blade with its alternating density pattern. Hoping it would be enough time Jarrod bolted down the corridor toward his ship and escape.

Jarrod burst through the hanger door and almost wept with relief. Samantha, as he had named her, stood ready for him. Smoke rolled from her exhaust port, and steam spurted from pressure valves; testimony that his instructions to have it ready to fly, warmed and primed, issued from security had been carried out.

As he headed for the ramp leading into the ship, Jarrod was brought up short. Rinlan stepped out of the shadow cast by one of the landing struts, a smug smile on his face.

"Going someplace Jarrod? I'm surprised you managed to avoid my little messengers. For a hot tempered cop you've done surprisingly well."

Jarrod noticed several other bodies clustered together behind another strut. Rinlan followed his gaze and chuckled.

"No, I'm not alone. Now, you have something that belongs to me and I want to make sure that you don't leave the planet until my messengers have had a little chat with you. I imagine they are not too far behind you. We shall just wait."

Jarrod could hear the change in pitch. The Gigglers were making their way through the hanger door. With no weapon what was he going to do? He stepped toward Rinlan, fist to his mouth, to all appearances prepared to beg for his life. When he heard the pitch change again announcing their arrival in the hanger proper he bit down hard on his hand, blood gushing into his mouth. At the same time he leapt toward Rinlan and grabbed him by the jacket. He stuck one of his now severed fingers inside the jacket and spun the man around. He tossed the other finger toward the bodies in the shadows as he ducked up the ramp.

The first Hunter caught the movement of the larger mass of its target and veered around Rinlan. By the time it got around his fat bulk Jarrod was shielded by the hull of his ship and the Hunter sought the second finger. It exploded on impact smashing the three men into the ship with bone crushing force.

The second Giggler sensed Jarrod’s other finger in Rinlan’s jacket. It had to burrow through his substantial middle before detecting the proper gene pattern and detonating, painting Rinlan over much of the hanger.

Jarrod heard the twin blasts and knew it had been close. Had Rinlan not been there he would not have had sufficient time to get the ship airborne before the Hunters began vibrating through the hull. He whispered thanks to Rinlan and closed the boarding ramp.

Space bound with his destination keyed into the navigator Jarrod plugged himself into the on-board computer and programmed it to upload all of the information contained in his implant. He giggled as the chip was cleared.

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